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Rohingyas face ethnic cleansing, discrimination

Speaking passionately through an interpreter, OIC chief Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu told the emotional crowd of Rohingya Muslims: “We are here to tell you that you are not alone, you are not abandoned.” in December 2013 (Photo: Arab News/Maha Akeel)

By Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
September 23, 2015

IT is no more a secret that the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are being subjected to flagrant violation of human rights and practices of ethnic cleansing and racial discrimination. A few months ago, the United Nations, represented by its Human Rights Council, announced that the Rohingya Muslims in the Arakan state of Myanmar are the “the world’s most persecuted minority.”

Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic community in the western Rakhine state of Myanmar, who have for decades suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in the Buddhist-majority country, which considers them illegal settlers from Bangladesh. Several international rights bodies, such as Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch emphasized in many reports and on several occasions that these hapless people have undergone sufferings that reached the level of ethnic cleansing and racial discrimination. They demanded the intervention of the international community to stop these gross rights violations.

The Western countries, especially the United States and the European Union states, are fully aware of what had happened and is happening in that country, which is closed to the outside world to a great extent. The military junta in Myanmar does not have any concern in safeguarding human rights. The Muslim countries are also aware of the magnitude of atrocities being perpetrated against the Rohingyas. There are several racist groups in Myanmar who are against Islam and Muslims and their aim is to drive Rohingyas out of the Rakhine state, and this with the clandestine support and blessing of the government — from both its civilian and military wings.

The issue of Rohingya Muslims was discussed at the Islamic summit held in Makkah a few years ago. While strongly criticizing the Myanmar government for the ethnic cleansing and atrocities committed against the Rohingyas, the summit demanded the government to stop the persecution of the Rohingya and protect them by restoring their legitimate rights. 

The summit authorized the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to exert every effort to end the persecution. But, unfortunately, the pan-Islamic body failed to carry out the duties assigned to it by the summit. The OIC confined its role to dispatching an envoy to Myanmar to tackle the issue and later called upon the Myanmar government to stop its discrimination against Rohingya Muslims and treat them fairly just like other citizens of the country. It is evident that the solution to this problem can be achieved only through collective pressure on the Myanmar government from the part of the international community as a whole and the OIC in particular.

It is also noteworthy that a series of meetings were held in Malaysia, Thailand and Norway to discuss the plight of the Rohingyas. All these meetings expressed their solidarity with these people and denounced what they are exposed to following injustice, oppression and discrimination. In Malaysia, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad criticized the Myanmar government vehemently for stripping the nationality of inhabitants of the Arakan region who have been living there since several centuries.

In Oslo, a conference was held in May this year with the aim of drawing international attention toward this issue so as to end the increasing persecution and suffering of the stateless Muslims who are ethnically linked to Rakhine state. Several prominent global figures, including philanthropist and business tycoon George Soros, and South African Bishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu converged at the Nobel Institute together with pastors, imams, and monks. In his speech, Soros compared the plight of Rohingyas in Myanmar to that of Jews in the Nazi Germany. Addressing the gathering, Tutu said that Rohingya Muslims face slow genocide.

Some American artists, including famous actor Matt Dillon, visited the Rakhine state to have a close look at Myanmar’s long-persecuted Rohingyas who are languishing at squalid camps. Voicing sympathy at the dismal state of Rohingyas, they called on the international community to urgently intervene to halt the persecution and human rights violations in the country.

The latest visit to Myanmar to monitor the situation of Rohingyas was that of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). In their second fact-finding mission, the delegation met with a variety of stakeholders to seek out a wide range of perspectives, including those from government, civil society and various ethnic and religious communities. After meeting with different segments of the Myanmar society, the delegation noted that there is no doubt that the recent legislations aimed at depriving Muslims of their right to vote and contest elections are in flagrant violation of the fundamental human rights.

While stating that the religious freedom is apparently under threat in Myanmar, they called on the international community to urgently intervene to pressurize the Myanmar government to roll back from denying Muslim population of their citizenship and stopping racial discrimination against them.

Similarly, nine embassies in Myanmar have issued a statement calling for tolerance ahead of the November election. In the statement, they said: “As the campaign in Myanmar officially begins, however, we, as international partners invested in the success of this country and these elections, are concerned about the prospect of religion being used as a tool of division and conflict during the campaign season. We call for all election rules and regulations to be applied fairly, consistently, and transparently without regard to ethnicity, religion, or political party.”

They specially mentioned the move to bar a Muslim parliament member belonged to the ruling party from contesting elections again. The United States also voiced its deep concern over the government’s decision to mass disenfranchisement of the Rohingya Muslims. However, the Myanmar government paid no heed to these demands or protests. 

As the polling day approaches, incumbent President Thein Shin is almost certain to be reelected. In a recorded tape, he boasted of enacting the ‘Protection of Race and Religion Law’, and taking a series of decisions against Muslims such as denying the OIC, which represents one billion Muslims, from opening an office in the northwest of the country. He also asserted that the international community has been told candidly that there is no such thing as Rohingya Muslims in a country whose inhabitants are only Buddhists. Shin also claimed that he took the country out of its isolation and that he had informed senior world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, that there is no Rohingya in the country and that his decisions have led to a boost of investment in the country.

The open statement about racial discrimination and ethnic cleansing by none other than the country’s president has resulted in the denial of voting rights for 1.5 million Rohingyas in the upcoming elections. This also emboldened the Buddhist extremists to continue the killing of hundreds of Rohingyas and driving out of hundreds of thousands of them. Hence, it is a humanitarian obligation on the United Nations and the entire global community to stop these immoral and inhuman acts and come forward to safeguard these miserable people.

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at

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